Pollock: Season surges as fish sticks
rule the covid marketplace
National Fisherman by Charlie Ess - October 6, 2020
Alaska pollock trawlers were well on track to catch their TAC for the year, and increased demand for seafood during the covid-19 pandemic threw some optimistic twists into market dynamics.
APA: U.S. Military Protection “Non-Negotiable” After Russian Aggression Towards Pollock Fleet
SeafoodNews.com by Peggy Parker - October 5, 2020
The At-Sea Processors Association (APA) has called U.S. military protection for the Bering Sea groundfish fleets “non-negotiable” after the stunning display of aggression from the Russian military in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Bering Sea in August and as recently as September 14, 2020.
During August 25-26, the Russian military, including destroyers, submarines, and war planes descended on the fishing grounds in the U.S. EEZ in an operation called Ocean Shield. The USCG describes it as "a multi-fleet, multi-service Russian military exercise that began in 2018 in the Eastern Mediterranean, and which has significantly expanded in scope with each iteration. Last year it was conducted in the Baltic, and this year expanded into the Bering Sea and the Arctic. The event includes live fire exercises, aircraft sorties, and amphibious landings; it is focused on exercising Russia’s capabilities to defend the Far East, Baltic and Arctic regions.
"Russia’s Arctic Strategy for 2035 features the use of the Northern Sea Route to exploit Arctic resources in the future. Given Russia’s economic and security interests in the region, it is likely similar exercises will take place in and near the Arctic in the future. While Russian defense authorities have publicly stated they plan to continue this exercise on an annual basis, it is unknown whether the defense of the Far East will be conducted as part of this exercise series every year," the Coast Guard report said.
APA worked with the United Catcher Boats and the Freezer Longline Coalition to produce a breathtaking chronology of the events during the pollock B season, and to alert the government to update communications and provide protection. They asked an urgent question: “do we risk these kinds of confrontations becoming something of a ‘new normal’ in the changing Arctic? And if so, what are U.S. policymakers and military planners doing to safeguard U.S. economic and security interests in this vital region?”
The testimony was to be delivered by Stephanie Madsen, APA's Executive Director, at a hearing of the Subcommittee on Security in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Transportation, and Science, on September 22. The hearing, which would have been chaired by Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan, has since been postponed indefinitely.
Madsen has spent her career in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands working with the seafood industry. In her erstwhile testimony, she described the area and set the scene for what followed.
“This part of the Arctic is truly remarkable, with its rich Native culture, stunningly productive marine ecosystem, and vital geopolitical positioning. Pollock fishing transcends the maritime boundary with Russia; our vessels operating in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone are sometimes within literal shouting distance of Russian vessels fishing for pollock in their waters. Yet in spite of this close proximity to a geopolitical adversary, our industry has for decades been able to operate safely and with legal certainty, relying on the USA/USSR Maritime Boundary Agreement concluded between James Baker and Eduard Shevardnadze on June 1, 1990,” Madsen explained.
But incidents of August 25-26 “shattered” the feelings of certainty and safety felt by the fleets from that 30-year agreement.
The Bering Sea fleets which target Wild Alaska pollock, Pacific cod, flatfish and other groundfish include catcher boats, catcher/processors, and motherships.
"Tuesday, August 25 provided the first indication that it would not be a typical week for our fleets," Madsen began in her testimony. "The Island Enterprise, a catcher-processor vessel operated by Trident Seafoods, was fishing in the vicinity of Pervenets Canyon when suddenly, without warning, a large submarine—what we learned later to be an Oscar-class Russian nuclear submarine—surfaced in the vicinity. Shortly thereafter a warship appeared, traveling at 17.5 knots on direct course towards the submarine. The warship made no contact with the Island Enterprise, but came within 2.5 nautical miles. Other vessels also observed the submarine and warship that day. These were our first clues that a major Russian military operation was underway smack-dab in the middle of our fishing grounds.
"The close and unexplained proximity of a foreign warship and submarine were, as you can imagine, immediately troubling. However, it is the events that unfolded the following day, August 26, that have given rise to deep concern throughout our industry. On that day the Russian military initiated a series of confrontations with U.S.-flagged fishing vessels that were, from our perspective, dangerous and completely unacceptable. These confrontations gave rise to genuine fears for the safety of captains and their crews, and in some cases led to operational decisions that cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost fishing opportunities," Madsen wrote.
"In the first such incident, the Northern Jaeger—a catcher-processor vessel operated by American Seafoods—was harassed by members of the Russian military over the course of approximately five hours. Northern Jaeger Captain Tim Thomas was positioned 21 nautical miles inside the U.S. EEZ when what he recognized to be a Russian military warplane started flying over his vessel.
"The warplane initiated radio contact, and through broken English started to deliver an alarming drumbeat of messages warning of 'danger' and insisting that he 'leave' as it continued to fly over the vessel at an increasingly low altitude.
"Despite his best efforts—which included enlisting the assistance of a Russian-speaking member of his crew—he was unable to ascertain from the warplane a clear sense of what was happening or to learn of any specific course of action that was being requested of him. During this period Captain Thomas repeatedly stated that he was operating lawfully within the U.S. EEZ and couldn’t be ordered to 'leave'. He also initiated multiple conversations with United States Coast Guard personnel, none of whom appeared to be aware that a major Russian military exercise was underway in the U.S. EEZ.
"After approximately two hours the warplane departed, and radio contact was initiated by a Russian warship that was positioned approximately 40 nautical miles away. Communications from the warship became increasingly urgent, warning of imminent danger and demanding that the Northern Jaeger leave, without providing specific coordinates. Captain Thomas sought to chart a new course on several occasions, but each time communications came back from the Russian warship making clear that they were not satisfied. Eventually, the Russian warship issued order that Captain Thomas sail due South 'for five hours' and not return to the area until September 4.
"Ultimately, with the level of intensity of the Russian military communications continuing to increase—and no satisfactory explanation or support provided by the U.S. Coast Guard—Captain Thomas complied. He estimates that approximately five days of productive fishing time were lost by the encounter and his resulting relocation, an economic harm running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars," Madsen wrote.
Some distance north of the Northern Jaeger—outside the area the Russians confirmed later was for their military exercise—were the Blue North and the Bristol Leader.
“These two freezer longliners were harassed by a Russian military warplane, which warned that they were in a live missile fire zone and in imminent danger. Bristol Leader Captain Brad Hall and Blue North Captain David Anderson recount similar experiences, with repeated fly-overs at low altitude—in some instances as low as an estimated 200 feet," Madsen described.
“After initiating radio contact, the warplane issued orders that they leave the area on a specific course at maximum speed. Both captains sought advice from the U.S. Coast Guard but were unable to learn any additional details about what was occurring. Coast Guard personnel told Captain Anderson to comply with the orders he was being given by the Russian military.
“....[B]oth captains felt that they had no choice but to abandon their fishing activities and exit the area. The Blue North cut its fishing gear and left it behind in order to be able evacuate the area quickly. It was only when the vessels fully complied with the Russian warplane’s orders that the harassment ceased. The economic losses relating to disabling fishing gear and relocating from productive fishing grounds were significant,” Madsen pointed out.
More than 50 nautical miles inside the U.S. EEZ, six U.S. catcher boats and two motherships were operating along the continental shelf break. Madsen described what happened next.
“Three Russian warships and two support vessels appeared, and initiated radio communication with two of the catcher boats—the Vesteraalen and the Mark 1. As the warships rapidly approached the catcher boats, they issued orders that they change course immediately, warning of imminent danger. The Vesteraalen responded that it had fishing gear in the water so had limited ability to change course. In response a Russian warship came directly towards the Vesteraalen, maneuvering as if to signal hostile intent. The warship came within half a nautical mile of the Vesteraalen before finally changing course,” Madsen wrote.
The U.S. pollock fishery is the largest seafood fishery in the world. APA members have been at the forefront of management innovations that has made the fishery a global model for sustainability. Madsen herself has served as chair of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council for years. The industry supports 101,000 U.S. jobs and earns an estimated $5.6 billion in annual labor income.
“As a representative of the U.S. fishing industry—and indeed as a proud American citizen—I find it completely unacceptable that U.S.-flagged vessels operating lawfully within the U.S. EEZ could ever be subjected to this kind of treatment,” stated Madsen.
“The fact that U.S. fishing companies, captains and crew had not been directly advised that a major Russian military exercise was planned in their sphere of regular operation is deeply concerning. The idea that U.S. vessels could be subjected to this kind of harassment by a foreign military power is alarming. And the notion that U.S. captains should be complying with orders issued by members of the Russian military is offensive. We need to ensure that the events of August 26 never happen again.”
APA asked for immediate notification “by our own government” before future planned exercises. “If any part of the U.S. government is notified of such a foreign military exercise in the future, there must be a clear and widely-understood [communication] mechanism … so we are aware of the exercises and can respond accordingly should there be a threat to the safety of our vessels and crew. This mechanism needs to account for the diversity of fishing vessels active near the U.S.-Russian maritime boundary, from large catcher-processors to small skiffs operated out of Northern Bering Sea communities,” Madsen wrote.
In a report now on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council meeting agenda, the U.S. Coast Guard provided their response to the incident and steps taken and those that are underway.
“District 17 just completed a contract with the Marine Exchange to use their Automatic Identification System (AIS) system to push marine information to mariners. This contract went into effect on the 30th of September. This contract did not come out of this incident, but we now have a capability transmit information to mariners over AIS systems,” the report reads.
APA’s second request is for “other parts of the U.S. government—most importantly the Coast Guard—must be alerted and have an opportunity to plan for the safety of U.S. mariners, including U.S.-flagged fishing vessels while they lawfully operate within the U.S. EEZ. It is unacceptable that Coast Guard officers on the front lines were unable to provide our captains with even the most basic information or, in most cases, guidance when contacted,” Madsen wrote.
“Third, in the event of future foreign military operations in or near the U.S. EEZ in the Bering Sea, plans should be in place for the U.S. Coast Guard to have an at-sea presence in the area to deter engagements by the foreign military with U.S.-flagged vessels lawfully operating in the U.S. EEZ and to better intervene in the event there is engagement or is otherwise an immediate danger to our vessels. Communication to our vessels of potential threats to our safety should be coming from the U.S. Coast Guard, not the Russian military,” she said.
The USCG Cutter ALEX HALEY was ultimately deployed to the area but the industry contends at least one cutter should be there for the entire operation.
Madsen also framed the events in the context of wider geopolitical challenges in the Arctic.
“If indeed these exercises are part of Russia’s effort to establish a more assertive presence in the Arctic—especially in a world where receding sea ice extent provides a set of new economic and military opportunities for regional powers— that is a cause of genuine alarm for our industry,” she wrote.
“Our sovereign right to legally fish within the U.S. EEZ must be protected. Our concerns are heightened by recent proclamations by members of the Russian Duma calling into question the legitimacy of the U.S./Russia boundary line—a cornerstone of the framework for our federal fisheries. Russian naval exercises cannot be allowed to serve as a deterrent to the fully legitimate operations of a U.S. fishing fleet that competes directly with the Russian seafood industry in global markets for pollock, Pacific cod, and other groundfish.
“Anxiety throughout the industry was also further heightened when a Russian warplane harassed our vessels in a separate incident just last week. On September 14, approximately 70 miles west of St. George, a Russian warplane made two direct passes over a U.S.-flagged catcher-processor vessel, the Starbound—the first starboard to port, the second stern to bow—and then performed a fly-over of a second one of our vessels, the Alaska Ocean.
"The captains estimate that the aircraft was at approximately 500 feet. No radio contact was made. This incident does not appear in any way related to an officially-noticed military exercise. Although it didn’t come with the level of economic cost or genuine fears regarding crew safety that accompanied the August 26 incidents, it is extremely worrying if it is indicative of a broader trend,” Madsen wrote.
“From our vantage point—on the front lines of a changing Arctic—a robust U.S. military presence to protect U.S. interests in the region is simply non-negotiable,” she asserted.
Madsen's full testimony has also been submitted to the Council, which begins its meeting this Friday. It can be read here.
Talk of The Rock: The Great Fisheries Debate
KMXT by Dylan Simard - October 6, 2020
Join KMXT’s Dylan Simard and Kodiak Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Director Sarah Phillips, as they discuss the upcoming fisheries debate between Al Gross and Dan Sullivan (moderated by KMXT’s Rhonda McBride,) along with the challenges of holding events online in the time of COVID and bringing Kodiak CrabFest and ComFish Alaska to the digital realm.
Warming Poses “Catastrophic” Threat to Endangered Snake River Sockeye, New Research Finds
Depressed survival likely to decline by another 80 percent, projections show.
NOAA Fisheries - September 30, 2020
Unusually warm river conditions killed most adult sockeye salmon migrating up the Columbia and Snake River system in 2015. These warmer conditions likely reflect a “new normal” with climate change, a new study finds. Scientists say that presents “catastrophic consequences for endangered species.”
Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone off Alaska; Pacific Cod in the Central Regulatory Area of the Gulf of Alaska
A Rule by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on 10/06/2020
NMFS is prohibiting retention of Pacific cod by catcher vessels using trawl gear in the Central Regulatory Area of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA). This action is necessary because the 2020 total allowable catch (TAC) of Pacific cod allocated to catcher vessels using trawl gear in the Central Regulatory Area of the GOA has been reached.
PERSPECTIVES: Keeping Business Relationships Strong in a Virtual World
Seafood News - October 7, 2020
For the US seafood industry, trade shows and in-person meetings have always been a primary way to educate overseas buyers about its products and build business partnerships. However, in a global pandemic, the world is a much different place, and traditional ways of doing business continue adapting to accommodate the new normal.
Each spring, Food Export–Northeast traditionally hosts an in-person Seafood Buyers Mission in Boston in conjunction with the annual Seafood Expo North America trade show. The goal of the event is to educate international buyers about Northeast US seafood products, make scheduled introductions between seafood suppliers and international buyers, and provide opportunities for business development. Unfortunately, the trade show was postponed to September, then canceled due to the pandemic.
The show’s cancellation and global travel restrictions necessitated reconfiguring the activity into a virtual adaptation. Rather than lose the vital opportunity for Northeast US seafood suppliers to connect with existing and potential new customers, Food Export – Northeast went ahead with hosting its mission through virtual meetings on Zoom in late September. The virtual Seafood Buyer’s Mission featured 120 Zoom meetings between 17 Northeast US seafood suppliers and 19 buyers participating from all around the world. The four days of virtual meetings allowed participants to start or continue important relationship building that’s necessary to yield export opportunities.
“Due to COVID-19, the Boston Seafood show was cancelled, but we were able to participate in Zoom meetings with a Korean buyer during the two days of the virtual Seafood Buyer’s Mission,” said Kristie Park, Food Export–Northeast In-Market Representative for the Korea market. “This event was well-organized by Food Export–Northeast and served as a good opportunity to e-meet with US seafood suppliers to discuss potential export opportunities for seafood products. It was good for the Korean buyer to learn about recent production and consumption trends in the US seafood market."
This is just one example of how Food Export–Northeast is moving business online and supporting suppliers. If you’re looking to stay engaged with global buyers in this non-travel environment, below are five (5) other virtual ways Food Export–Northeast can support your business:
1. Branded Program: Many suppliers use Branded Program cost-sharing to obtain reimbursement for up to 50% of their digital marketing or promotional dollars. This reimbursement allows seafood companies to get creative and try new promotional awareness building activities. In 2019, this program awarded 30 seafood suppliers across the Northeast US a total of $1.1 million to bolster their marketing campaigns and expand into new and emerging international markets. The funding was used for everything from website and social media promotion targeted to international audiences, creating new product packaging, and securing in-market promotional support. Food Export–Northeast recently successfully petitioned the USDA to withdraw the five-year per market limitation for use of Branded funds (known as graduation). Beginning in 2021, participating companies will no longer be time-limited in using these funds to support their foreign market development and promotion efforts in any market.
2. Market Builder Service: This program is designed to help suppliers export to new countries by analyzing market opportunities, creating new buyer partnerships, and providing feedback about product marketability. The program has two components including a Market Scan that provides market research for various seafood products, and our Rep Finder service that facilitates one-on-one meetings between interested buyers and a supplier. Virtual meetings are now available through this service.
3. Virtual Consultations Service: Our Virtual Consultations service allows suppliers to connect directly with our In-Market Representatives in 30-minute one-on-one sessions. Suppliers submit their questions in advance to ensure that every minute of the session is customized and useful. During these sessions, our In-Market Representatives will help you gain export confidence and maximize your in-market activities. Food Export–Northeast has 19 In-Market Representatives covering the top global export markets. Register today to get started with your first Virtual Consultation.
4. Online Wholesale Selling: Seafood suppliers can take advantage of our partnership with Alibaba, which allows members to set up virtual stores on the platform to help you reach a global audience of buyers instantly. To make it easy for Northeast US seafood suppliers, Food Export–Northeast covers the cost of the supplier’s store set up fee through the Branded Program. By using this program, suppliers can also benefit from 50 percent off of Alibaba’s annual global store fee. More information can be found on this page.
5. Lead Qualification Service: Food Export–Northeast’s Lead Qualification service can help qualify leads generated through virtual meetings or other online business activities in markets where we have an In-Market Representative.
Want to learn more about how Food Export–Northeast can help you grow your export business overseas virtually? Visit the Food Export–Northeast website or call 215-829-9111 to learn about our services and get in touch.
NOTE: This is a paid advertorial feature brought to you by Food Export-Northeast via Urner Barry's Perspectives offering.
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